How students are personalizing their masks and facial coverings

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A homemade mask with a matching bucket hat. Photo courtesy of Katherine Stahla.

Masks and facial coverings have been required in public in Colorado for months, and they serve an important purpose: they help prevent the spread of  COVID-19. They also serve an equally important purpose of tying an outfit together.

The Center for Disease Control and Prevention has recommended that everyone over the age of two wear a mask or face covering. Masks provide what is called source control by trapping respiratory droplets and preventing them from reaching others. 

Because masks have become more in-demand, they have also become more widely available. Many stores sell reusable cloth masks with fun designs. Online platforms like Redbubble and Teespring have even allowed artists to sell their own designs for masks. Some people even make their own masks to get their level of customization exactly right.

Masks have evolved as their own form of self-expression. Complimenting someone on their mask is a great way to make friends, especially when all the normal events at the start of the school year have been moved online or have been canceled entirely. 

Many people have amassed their own collections, whether it is to coordinate with their outfits better or to make mask maintenance easier. Public health experts recommend that reusable masks be washed after each use, especially if they are worn for long periods of time. 

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UNC senior Mamie Romanowski says that sounds like a lot of work.

“I have at least two weeks’ worth of reusable face masks, because if you think I’m hand-washing one every day, you’re fucking dreaming,” Romanowski said.

While reusable masks are popular, there are still those who prefer to use disposable masks. Some may not be able to make their own masks, while others are worried about the effectiveness of cloth masks. 

Katie Nord, a UNC freshman, uses both disposable and cloth masks, but prefers single-use masks because of their efficacy over cloth masks.

“It wouldn’t be protective enough,” Nord said of reusable fabric masks.

However, there are some impacts of disposable masks. They are typically made out of plastic or synthetic fibers, and are intended to be used only once. If not disposed of properly, they can end up as litter and impact wildlife. 

High demand has also caused shortages of both surgical and N95 masks, which healthcare providers desperately need.

There are only a few wrong ways to wear a mask. There is some evidence that neck gaiters and masks with valves aren’t as effective at blocking respiratory droplets, and everyone knows that noses have to be covered. 

Whether mask choice comes from a desire to match outfits or to protect peers, it is always a good choice to make.

Learn how to make masks at www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/pre-
vent-getting-sick/how-to-make-cloth-face-covering.html.

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